Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I was one of many huge Star Wars fans. Unfortunately George Lucas’s overly computer generated and terribly directed prequels destroyed my fandom and interest. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings came around at just the right time to reignite my love for sci-fi and fantasy – but sadly the George Lucas affect has infected Jackson’s terrible Hobbit prequel movies too. I mention my roots in Star Wars fandom here in a review of Will Wheaton’s Just A Geek as an acknowledgment of my oscillating fandom for quality sci-fi and fantasy and to reflect on my tenuous relationship with Star Trek.
My parents loved the original Star Trek and I recall seeing The Wrath of Khan in the theatre as a young kid and being terribly grossed out and frightened by the ear-worm thing that Khan used to control Chekov. I recall the Star Trek movies being just kind of ok, but never measuring up to Star Wars. The Star Trek TV show was just too hard to watch with all of its campy sets and terrible acting, however, once The Next Generation (TNG) came along it caught my attention. The acting, special affects, and story writing all seemed much improved and I was drawn into the nobility of a future that functioned without money and was managed by a prime directive that encouraged exploration for the sake of learning.
TNG was a great show to watch during my childhood and early teens and I enjoyed it immensely, however as the years went on I kind of forgot about it. TNG never had the impact on me as did Star Wars up until I started dating this girl who was a self-professed Trekkie able to name off episode titles of TNG and inform me about all the complex politics of Star Trek universe. I later married that girl and we’ve slowly been watching all the episodes of TNG through the years to catch me up on the great storytelling that I only sort of gave attention to when I was younger.
It is through this rekindled interest in Star Trek that I decided to read my wife’s copy of Wil Wheaton’s Just A Geek, which has been sitting on our book shelf for several years. Wil Wheaton, the teenage actor that portrayed the boy-genius, Wesley Crusher hadn’t done much acting since he left TNG to pursue a failed career in movies. Just A Geek is Wheaton’s reflection on his relationship with TNG, Trekkies, Hollywood, and the pressures of acting. After his failed acting career Wheaton has since become a blogger and writer of several books. Just A Geek is a collection of his early blog entries and essays written specifically for this book about his coming to terms with adulthood, career choices, and accepting his forever connection to TNG and the Star Trek universe.
I read Just A Geek slowly over several months in between other books (just as we are slowly rewatching the TNG episodes) and it served its purpose as brief distraction from my other reading. Wheaton’s writing isn’t groundbreaking, but it is engaging enough (this is a personal memoir after all) but he has a humor and ability to poke fun at himself that is admirable.
The book is mostly about Wheaton’s struggles as he goes to audition after audition to be turned down for several parts. As a married man raising two children, the lack of income weighed hard on him over the years and he compromised by doing infomercials in an attempt to make ends meet. Things seemed to get really bad as he got cut from his cameo in the final TNG movie because his scene didn’t fit the story, but the most life changing event was when he backed out of a week long family vacation to sit through a few auditions that didn’t go anywhere. The time alone away from his family was really heart-wrenching for him and allowed him to reevaluate his acting career. Eventually he decides to write and for all I know, he is doing just fine as a writer.
Through all of his struggles he is faced with his past as a child actor and he later comes to terms with it and embraces his role as a small part of the Trekkie conventions. Through all of this narrative he interjects some stories about the TNG cast and I enjoyed some of the behind the scenes tidbits. For example, the sliding doors were operated by people just sliding them and often the timing would be off and actors would walk right into the doors because they weren’t opened in time. Also, the doors were really loud so each time a pair of characters would approach a door they would pause their conversation to account for the noise of the human-operated “high-tech automatic” doors.
Overall, this was a fun distraction book. I wouldn’t really wave it from the hilltops as a pinnacle of literary achievement or as an all revealing memoir of scandalous propensity, but it was a fun and amusing read to occupy time that needed occupation.